A Silent Corrupting Force? Criminal Sentencing and the Threat of Recall

40 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2020

See all articles by Sanford C. Gordon

Sanford C. Gordon

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Sidak Yntiso

New York University

Date Written: June 4, 2020

Abstract

39 U.S. states authorize recall elections, but the incentives they create are not well understood. We examine how changes in the perceived threat of recall alter the behavior of one set of officials: judges. In 2016, outrage over the sentence imposed on a Stanford athlete following his sexual assault conviction sparked an ultimately successful drive to recall the presiding judge. Using data on over 22,000 sentences from six California counties and matched arrest records for a subset of more than 12,000, we examine whether critical events in the recall campaign were accompanied by corresponding changes in other judges' sentences. We find a large, discontinuous increase in punitiveness associated with the campaign's announcement, but not the recall itself -- suggesting the announcement shifted judges' beliefs about their political environment. The increase may have indirectly produced a disproportionate burden for minority defendants. Our findings are the first to document incentive effects of recall, and suggest that targeted political campaigns may have far-reaching, unintended consequences.

Keywords: Recall, Judicial Elections, Sentencing, Discrimination, Regression Discontinuity

JEL Classification: D72, J15, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Sanford C. and Yntiso, Sidak, A Silent Corrupting Force? Criminal Sentencing and the Threat of Recall (June 4, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3619554 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3619554

Sanford C. Gordon (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

19 West 4th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

Sidak Yntiso

New York University ( email )

New York, NY
United States

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